Rwanda is not reading any political significance into last week’s visit by former French president Nicolas Sarkozy, who led a delegation of investors to Kigali.
Junior minister for foreign affairs Olivier Nduhungirehe says although Mr Sarkozy met President Kagame, it should not be seen to have any political gravitas because Mr Sarkozy does not have any formal role in the current French government.
“This is a private visit and it is important to remember that Mr Sarkozy has no official position in the government of France,” Minister Nduhungirehe, told The EastAfrican.
Mr Sarkozy held a private meeting with President Kagame on Monday.
His visit came against a backdrop of frosty relations between Kigali and Paris that have seen the French embassy in Rwanda operate without a substantive ambassador after Kigali refused to accredit the nominee over concerns about his views on the 1994 genocide.
Relations between the two countries hit an all-time low during the tenure of Jacques Chirac — Mr Sarkozy’s predecessor — when a French judge recommended that President Kagame and nine senior government officials face trial for the 1994 genocide.
This was in relation to the bringing down of a plane that was carrying former Rwandan president Juvenal Habyarimana and his Burundian counterpart Cyprian Ntaryamira.
Rwanda retaliated by closing its embassy in Paris and ordered the French ambassador at the time, Dominique Decherf, to leave the country within 24 hours. All French aided projects in the country were also halted.
Hopes for better relations were dented further last October when France reopened a probe into the assassination of Habyarimana. French President Emmanuel Macron also skipped Rwanda on his maiden Africa tour last November.
Two months later, Rwanda commissioned its own report showing that the French government and military officials supplied weapons to perpetrators of the genocide and obstructed attempts to bring them to justice.
Not much has been revealed about what transpired during Mr Sarkozy’s private meeting with President Kagame but government sources say the two leaders have maintained a close relationship even after Mr Sarkozy left power five years ago – a friendship that now transcends politics and business.
“You would remember that it is during Sarkozy’s term as president that diplomatic relations resumed and that Rwanda and France reopened their respective embassies. Both leaders have maintained good personal relationships since then,” Mr Nduhungirehe said.
The former French president led a delegation of representatives from Bolloré Logistics — France’s leading transport and logistics company.
They included the chief executive Cyrille Bolloré and his deputy Philippe Labonne. Mr Sarkozy was appointed CEO of Bollore’s television network, iTele, in 2016.
After the meeting with President Kagame, Mr Sarkozy and the delegation spent time at the Rwanda Development Board (RDB), where they explored investment opportunities.
They met Clare Akamanzi, CEO of RDB, who later said that they had discussed possible ventures and that “Rwanda is always open for foreign investors.”
Mr Sarkozy had last visited Rwanda in 2010, becoming the only French head of state to visit since the genocide in 1994. He was also the first sitting French president to admit to “mistakes” committed by his country in the 1994 genocide.
A year earlier, President Kagame had said that though relations were not at their best, they had greatly improved under Mr Sarkozy.
“The relationship is improving. It is much better than it used to be before the current administration came to power,” he said.
“There is a huge difference between the administration under (Jacques) Chirac and the administration under Nicolas Sarkozy, we are working to have improvements.” said President Kagame.
Even when he was defeated in the 2012 elections by Francois Hollande, Mr Sarkozy maintained a close network with some world leaders, including President Kagame.
He was criticised for this decision by French media which accused him of conducting “parallel democracy” and undermining the newly elected president.
The last French business delegation to Rwanda also happened shortly after Mr Sarkozy had left power in October 2012, when representatives from seven French companies visited Rwanda to scout for business opportunities.
Rwanda has endeavoured to have other French presidents recognise their country’s role in the genocide, albeit unsuccessfully.
For 24 years now, business between the two countries has been interrupted by hostile politics, with trade flows standing at a mere $10 million last year.
Between 2009 and 2014, Rwanda attracted only $9.6 million direct investments from France — the lowest among Rwanda’s Europe’s trade partners — representing only 0.3 per cent of the $3 billion foreign investments registered in the same period.